In the UK, most children have a telephone by age 11. In China, they get one at an even younger age: 88% of students aged 6 to 8 have their own laptop.
They are therefore likely to take these phones with them to school – encouraged to do so by their parents, who have an interest in their safety. However, schools can experience them as disruptive. In France, its use is prohibited during school hours and breaks, at least until secondary school. Yet such a measure is difficult to enforce, according to research with Chinese teachers.
The alternative would be to take note of the now inevitable presence of smartphones in our daily lives in school regulations. Our work thus suggests that students, even in primary school, have the necessary maturity to contribute to the implementation of such policies.
Age, an important factor
While some studies (including one conducted in Spain) have shown that banning cell phones could improve students’ academic results, especially when they come from disadvantaged backgrounds, this observation is in no way found consistent in other studies.
These inconsistencies can be explained by the fact that this study has focused on different age groups, without much consideration of the maturity of the children and their motivation at school. This is not unimportant because children can learn to use their mobile better as they get older.
For example, it has been observed that 18-year-old students only use their phones during interclasses, before the start or at the end of a lesson, while waiting for a teacher to arrive. Moreover, it was often an individual activity, which did not interfere with the learning process. But it seems unlikely that younger teens or children will behave the same way.
On the other hand, instead of viewing mobile phones as sources of distraction, they could be used to encourage students to participate in their learning process.
An initiative like ‘Bring your own device’, tested in New Zealand secondary schools, found that students’ digital skills improved when they were encouraged to bring their own smartphones and tablets to class. We also note in this regard that there are more exchanges within the classroom, but also between the students and their teachers.
Rather than ban phones completely, schools could consider policies that integrate some digital skills and make young people aware of the risks of screens and social media.
In addition to reducing potential distractions in learning activities, this would promote better everyday use of smartphones, which would be especially valuable for children who, by definition, have more difficulty regulating their use of digital technology.
Neither parents nor children are
for the total ban
It is important to take into account the views of all those involved: teachers, responsible for implementing school policies, the pupils to whom they are addressed, and parents, who can influence their children’s compliance with the rules.
For our research, we conducted interviews in pairs with parents and their children aged 10 or 11 years. First, we asked them a few questions about how they understand the benefits and risks of phones in school. Then we presented them with a panel of school regulations so they could tell us what they thought.
According to the results, parents and children believe that phones are important for keeping in touch, while being aware of their risks in the school environment, from bullying to internet access. Neither side supports a policy of total cell phone bans.
The children participated with great maturity in the discussions, sometimes surprising their parents with their assessment of the risks. They know how to distinguish between what is and isn’t appropriate use of the phone.
In addition, in collaboration with their parents, they were able to come up with ideas for house rules and solutions to enforce them. A parent/child duo suggested the presence of a ‘telephone prefect’, who would have a cell phone in front of the classroom, which children and parents could communicate with during the day if necessary.
The involvement of young people and their parents in the development of the establishment policy makes it possible to increase their effectiveness and, more generally, even reduce the use that poses problems. For example, consultation with families is already recommended in Ireland regarding mobile phone regulations.
In short, completely banning phones in schools could amount to missing out on an opportunity to engage and train new generations in the responsible use of smartphones.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.